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In purity culture, the only sexual ethic is "no." You have to not do as much as you possibly can, until you get married. First of all, you can't have sex. I mean, OBVIOUSLY. Secondly, any kind of physical touching of a romantic nature can make you impure, so if possible, don't kiss before marriage, or hold hands, or hug, or let any skin cells or hair follicles of yours touch a member of the opposite sex. (Because in purity land, everyone is straight. ... Right.) And don't masturbate. And maybe don't learn too much information about your own genitals, or how sex works, because then you'll be tempted to try it. And you know what, it's also bad to be emotionally impure. So don't like your boyfriend "too much", don't get "emotionally attached"- you need to guard your heart. Don't fall in love. Really if you could just not have crushes or desires at all, that would be ideal.
If at any point, you end up experiencing something romantic or sexual (if you're not married) then you're not pure enough, you're not worthy, you'll never have a perfect marriage, you better hope your future spouse can forgive you. Note that it doesn't matter whether it was consensual or not. The definition of impurity is experience. You experienced it, doesn't matter if you chose it or not, you're still impure. (And really, wasn't there some point along the way where you didn't say "no" clearly enough, or didn't refuse to be in a possibly-impure situation? Well that calls this whole "it wasn't your fault" thing into question. Important note: NO. No- this line of thinking is rape culture and victim-blaming and it is MESSED UP. Anything nonconsensual that happens is NEVER THE VICTIM'S FAULT.)
It was all about infinities, about consequences so big we couldn't even understand them. Nobody ever said, "if you hold hands with your boyfriend, your future marriage won't be as good- but the effect on your future marriage isn't like, totally disastrous, so you can hold hands now if you're okay with those future consequences." Haha, no. Nothing like that. Every choice was either pure or impure, sinful or not, and you HAD TO pick the pure one or else your future would be ruined.
And they said that any other sexual ethic besides purity was just doing whatever you wanted, not caring about risks, not caring about people, not respecting yourself.
Well. It turns out that's not true. Thank you, Dianna Anderson, for introducing a sexual ethic based on being reasonable.
Damaged Goods covers a lot of different topics: consent, knowing yourself, the fact that you own your own body, individual rights, boundaries, respect, good reasons to choose abstinence, etc. (Maybe abstinence is a good choice for you. Maybe having sex is a good choice for you. You evaluate your situation and decide.) All important components of a sexual ethic firmly rooted in reasonableness.
It's about educating yourself, about knowing the potential risks and benefits of certain choices. Go read people's stories about "I did this and it was a good choice for me for the following reasons..." and "I did this and it was a bad choice for me for the following reasons..." Think about what you want and what's important to you. Be honest. Communicate. Understand your own body. There are risks associated with relationships and sex- how can you manage those risks? In your situation, are the risks great enough to outweigh the benefits, or not? And of course, as you learn about what you want and how to get it, you also have to allow other people to do that too- you have to respect everyone, and always ask for consent if you do something sexual with someone.
It's mind-blowing to me how simple this all is, and how freeing. In purity culture, I always worried. I was always afraid that I wouldn't be able to control myself, that if I was faced with the right combination of temptations, I would do something unthinkable, and wake up the next morning completely confused about how it had happened- but 100% sure it was my fault. So I kept building walls and more walls, to keep away from anything that seemed like it could maybe be a temptation.
You don't have to be afraid! You don't have to be afraid of your own desires and your own body. You don't have to be afraid of temptation. You don't have to be afraid of ruining your life. Just be realistic- learn about the risks and decide if you're okay with them or not.
Y'all have to go read this book. For real.
For me, the best part of this book was how it presented a sexual ethic based on being reasonable. (And yes, I will keep repeating that phrase FOREVER because that's exactly what it is.) But there's also a lot of other good stuff. Anderson gives an overview of the history of the purity movement. She writes about myths about what the bible says about sex- myth #1 is "sex makes people one flesh", which blew my mind because I thought "one flesh" was totally a euphemism for sex, and nothing more. She tells her own personal story about leaving purity culture and learning to make choices about sex. There is intersectionality- she shows how modesty culture is especially harmful to women who are not thin, white, and able-bodied. And throughout the whole thing, it's clear that her view on sexuality is thoroughly Christian- this isn't about "rejecting the bible" or whatever other accusations evangelicals make.
If you've been taught that you're unable to make choices about your own body and your own romantic and sexual relationships, and that your only hope is to follow the church's rules, well guess what, it's NOT TRUE. (And Jesus had some things to say about people who teach children harmful things...) You own your own body. Go and learn about stuff. Made educated choices. You can totally do it.
posts I've written about Damaged Goods:
Sex Was Just Not A Thing That People Did
Is There Choice in the Kingdom of God?
A Sexual Ethic Based On BEING REASONABLE